I’ve been reading ‘The End Of Vandalism’ and halfway wanted my next blog post to be a highbrow review on literature. Not that the piece is your picture of intellectual writing, but it is a book, and books mean brains. Instead, I’m going to write about how I sat in front of the television for almost 13 hours and melted my mind with an adaptation of “funny book bullshit,” as my dad would’ve called it. Maybe one day I’ll come back to this page and dazzle everyone with stirring tales of my genius accomplishments, but not today. Today’s the day I rave about one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the boob tube – ‘Marvel’s Daredevil’ on Netlifx. It’s an ambitious endeavor, rife with brave storytelling and compelling writing.
Oh, and this fight scene is better than that whole Ben Affleck disaster from a few years back.
‘Daredevil’ starts off with a bang, putting the hero in danger in an early scene of the first episode. We see the hero, clad in ninja black, taking down a team of human traffickers in the dead of night. He wears a mask with no eyelets because he cannot see. We know that as viewers, but his enemies don’t. During the day, he is Matt Murdock, one half of the struggling law firm Nelson & Murdock, which he barely keeps afloat with his longtime friend and partner Foggy. There are times when Matt comes to work with bruises on his face from a night of crime-fighting and one wonders how many times old Foggy can hear the old “I fell down” excuse.
With no clients ever, our boys take a case pro bono in trying to make a name for themselves. That’s how we meet Karen Page, a pretty damsel in distress, framed for the murder of a coworker who knew too much about his shady boss. So begins a long string of events wrapped around fights, detective work, intrigue and murder, with Daredevil caught in the middle – and sometimes even scraped off the bottom.
Star Charlie Cox is perfectly cast as the handicapped attorney who can “see” better than all of us. Struck lame as a child in an accident that heightened his other senses to superhuman levels, Matt is able to expertly navigate the world with honed precision. Thanks, in part, to the drill sergeant mercilessness of Stick, his early trainer in becoming an Olympic-level athlete and martial arts badass, Matt has learned to control and focus his other incredible senses. Able to register minute changes in air density, combined with scent detection and sonar-like hearing, Matt can “construct” the world around him inside his own mind. In a mild deviation from the comic book, which gives Daredevil a sort of “radar sense,” the series keeps our hero’s powers scaled down to mere 4-senses dependency. And somehow it works.
There are a handful of elements in this show that gloriously stand out. One is the fact that Daredevil gets his ass kicked a few times, and horribly. With the aid of the ‘Night Nurse’ Claire Temple (sweetly depicted by Rosario Dawson), who patches him up reguarly, he’s able to indulge in his nightly binges of saving the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. And they are binges. Matt and Daredevil both seem to silently relish in the chase as well as the battle. Moving his metaphorical chess pieces ever closer to the demise of the opposing king, he inches nearer to one bad idea away from becoming the very thing that he hates. In this case, that “thing” is Wilson Fisk, played stunningly by Vincent D’Onofrio.
Another joy to watch among many in this series, Fisk is in his early stages of head organized crime. In his own twisted version of the story, he figures taking over Hell’s Kitchen is the only way to save it from decay. He and Matt both share a “my way or the highway” approach to handling what they consider threats to their beloved neighborhood, and it never ends well for either of them. Fisk is played as socially awkward, always dressed in black, and mindlessly in love with gallery curator Vanessa. You find yourself almost rooting for him, even after seeing the bastard literally remove someone’s head in a fit of rage two scenes earlier. It’s a tour de force in character delivery from D’Onofrio, who gives fans of the comic what they didn’t even know they wanted.
He’s not alone. The sorely underused Scott Glenn shows up in the role of Stick just for one episode, yet you can’t help but love the terrible bastard. He comes in shortly after Matt loses his boxer father to criminal murder and the young boy takes to Stick despite his verbally and physically abusive teachings. Always the hard-ass, constantly riding young Matt to be the best he can be despite his loss of eyesight, the blind Stick also enjoys four amazing senses. He didn’t get gifted with them from an accident like Matt – he achieved that level of awesomeness through sheer force of will! I guess when you’ve done the impossible, you’re allowed to talk a lot of shit because Stick’s a real piece of work. Rarely does a comic book screen adaptation get a character so perfectly cast and faithful to its source material. This guy literally jumped out of the pages.
The acting is great all around. Cox plays Murdock and Daredevil with courageous zeal and conflicting emotions. He wants to hold true to his Catholic beliefs, as he tells his priest, but screws it up regularly through acts of violence, lies about his second life, and the will to commit murder for the good of the city. Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen is sensitive, determined, and dead set on righting wrongs even if she has to go too far in the process. Elden Henson is a name I’ve never heard of before this show, yet I was easily swayed into seeing him as Foggy Nelson – a man who cannot and will not cross any lines or gray any areas. And while I’ve always been hugely against race-casting (changing the ethnic backgrounds of comic book characters for the screen), I somehow don’t mind Vondie Curtis-Hall in the role of reporter Ben Urich. That could be because the character is largely a second-tier player in the Marvel Universe. But Hall has always been one of those go-to guys if you wanted a competent and versatile supporting actor without going broke on A-Listers.
Wonderfully scripted, each episode bridges to the next in what I call just one really long movie. The violence quotient is cranked to a dial-breaking range no TV network would touch with a 10-foot billy club. With only passing references to its older big screen siblings, there are no magic hammers or angry green monsters in this thing. Instead, we have long narratives and slow burns that build suspense and often end in bones shattering and blood spurting. It’s a gritty and grounded entry into the adult Marvel Universe and that’s only the beginning…
For those not in the know, ‘Daredevil’ is merely chapter one in a five-issue television extravaganza that Netflix was smart enough to showcase. We’ll be seeing the 13-episode series ‘AKA Jessica Jones’ starring Krysten Ritter later this year. It will chronicle the life of a former superhero who quit the business due to PTSD. Next year will be a Luke Cage vehicle starring Mike Colton, with Iron Fist soon to follow. After all 4 shows have aired, Marvel plans on a ‘Defenders’ miniseries, bringing all characters together, including Daredevil, to form a team a la ‘The Avengers.’
Iron Fist has yet to be cast, but I’m still putting my money on Marvel to do it right. These guys are by no means big names in comics fandom compared to Spider-Man or Captain America, but neither were the ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ and that was the hottest movie of 2014. If the other 3 single shows are anywhere near as amazing as ‘Daredevil’ turned out to be, DC/Warner Brothers can say goodbye to owning the small screen. No shots at ‘Arrow’ and ‘The Flash’ because I love them both – but this Marvel/Netflix marriage is giving them a hell of a run for their money. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to finish. Oh wait, ‘Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is on. Fuck that book.